As I went to bed last night I had butterflies in my belly for the first time in a really long time. It’s not like I hadn’t done something like this before. I hiked Mt. Whitney a few years ago as a day hike and just this week also reached the top of White Mountain, one of only two CA 14-thousand footers that aren’t in the Sierra Nevada Range. But it still seemed kinda like a big deal. I’ve had many early awakenings this Summer to summit Half Dome by sunrise (I think my total was 5), but that was always a decision made for clients and the group I was with, not just me. This was the first time in a long time that I was the one making the decision on what I wanted to do, and also technically the first time I would set out in the dark by myself for an adventure goal that I wanted to accomplish, just me, myself, and I. I was going to hike to the top of Mt. Langley, the 9th tallest peak in California and I was going to force myself up at a god-awful hour in the morning to do it.
The alarm was set for 4:10 am. I had fallen asleep earlier this past week but decided to set a hard bedtime for 9pm. Not hard to do when you’re living out of your car without any electricity and the sun now setting (early November) at the terrible time of 5. Blast daylight savings time. Anyway that I looked at it I had a limited amount of daylight since the days were, in fact, getting shorter and that would factor into how much time I would give myself to hike to the top and back. I was hoping to be on the trail by 5:00 am.
When the alarm rang I shot right up as one does for these occasions. I pre-packed my bag and pretty much slept in what I was going to wear so I wouldn’t have to spend too much time doing anything at that god awful hour. Who likes cooking grits at 4:30am anyways?? I was ready in no time and hopped in the car to begin the climb up the mountain. I stayed at Alabama Hills the night before because I wanted to be in a warmer temperature for sleeping. I had learned my lesson earlier that week with waking up to an 8 degree temperature at 8500 ft. There are walk-in campsites right by the trailhead if you want to go that route, but it sits at 10,000 feet elevation so it will definitely be a tad colder up there. It takes awhile to climb up to Horseshoe Meadows in your car, hairpin turns and drop-offs around every corner, but that means less climbing for the legs!
I finally arrived and started my trek at about 5:15 am. A tad later than I had hoped, but not terrible. Although the sun wasn’t supposed to rise until around 6:20 I only really needed to use my headlamp for maybe the first 30 minutes. Not bad. What was bad was the lack of feeling on all the fat on my thighs and butt. Uh-huh, shoulda wore thicker leggings. It was chilllllayyyy!
The first part of the trail, about 4-5 miles, is super gradual and almost level even. I did have the advantage of hiking this part of the trail last Fall with a group of Sophomores that I was trying to take up Whitney a few days after that hike. I remembered it being pretty nice but we didn’t quite get to the good stuff before we had to turn around, which was ok because it only wet my desire to return and see what Cottonwood Lakes and Langley were all about.
I arrived at the first trail split. New Army Pass was a left turn or Cottonwood Lakes to the right and do the Old Army Pass. I didn’t do too much research before I did this hike but I do know this much; people definitely have their opinions on which one is better to take up or down or not at all. I decided to head up the Old Army Pass since that was the confirmed more direct route as long as there isn’t any chance of snow on the trail, which can make this option the sketchier choice of the two. There was also mention that this route was an unofficial one and the trail hasn’t been maintained for 40 years. Sweet. Let’s see what it’s like!
There was a slight elevation gain once I took the Cottonwood Lakes spur and headed up to see that side of the loop. It leveled out again once I spotted the lakes and saw massive rock faces lining up behind the lakes. Ahhhhhhh. I’m probably climbing to the top of those huh? Can I see my final destination from here? I’m not even sure, but what magnificent scenery!!
The trail meandered around some lakes before heading to Cottonwood Lake #4, which would be the last one before the massive rock wall that I was going to climb. While I was walking around this lake I heard the funkiest noise I’ve ever heard in nature. It kinda sounded like a car alarm. It was nuts and of course I couldn’t get my phone out in time enough to record it. I only saw ducks around and I don’t think it was them so I was left pondering what caused it. I have done further investigation and it sounded exactly like this. The culprit was definitely rock fall from above hitting the frozen lake. How freakin’ sweet is that?!
As I looked from afar at the line the trail would take to get to this pass I thought, ‘oh, ok, that makes sense’. And then, ‘hmm, some of that looks kinda sketch.’ It’s kinda like when you’re giving advice to a buddy rock climbing, some of the moves seem so easy and obvious from below and then you go up there and see that they are barely nothing. Well this was kind of the opposite. I looked at it from afar and thought it looked sketchier but then as I approached and started towards the rubble/sand piles I saw there was an obvious path and there wasn’t anything sketchy. Just watch yo step and stay on the path and you’ll be fine.
The climb up Old Army Pass slowed me down a tad but it wasn’t that long and I was stoked to finally see the Sequoia National Park sign indicating that I had reached the top of the pass. Sweet. Now only several thousand more feet of elevation still to climb!
I headed off to the right when the trails forked. The trail here is technically not official but felt very much so and they have even established massive cairns so that people will follow one route instead of 10 to the top. There was a very obvious path and it was pretty easy going for a while until it wasn’t. The trail started to get less faint, the cairns much much bigger and the elevation gain, evident. I started to take more breaks to
rest ‘check out the beauty’. As I started to climb higher and higher the vistas really did start expanding and stretching like Laffy Taffy. I knew the summit was within reach now but it didn’t make it easier. The air was thin, the rock piles kept appearing higher up in the sky, and the sand that I had to hike up to get there, hmmpphhh! For every 2 steps that I would take I would slide back another. I didn’t quite know if I was following the path that I was supposed to in between cairns, but I followed some sort of line between them. I figured at that point it was mainly rock and gravel so I wasn’t doing too much damage hopefully.
I hiked, I paused to take a photo, I studied the paths to see which way best to take, I hiked some more, I paused to rest, I hiked some more, I pondered more paths, I wondered if I would ever reach the top….and then I arrived! I first saw a pair of trekking poles that somebody had left, then I stumbled upon the sign, register, and geological survey marker. I done did it, wahoo!! The view was pretty spectacular! Spanning into Sequoia, Whitney is the next biggest mountain to the North and this is the most Southern 14’er so nothing else towers over it to the South. I could see other mountain peaks for miles and miles. I had the summit, as well as the rest of the day’s adventure, all to myself. I was stoked.
I savored the views while also savoring my handful of olives from Trader Joe’s and some Sriracha Chicken Bar from Epic followed by a dark chocolate coconut square. I wasn’t planning on staying long so I finished up and started heading down, taking with me the creepy leftover and chewed trekking poles. It was, as it usually always is, easier following the cairns going down and I was just sliding down some of the gravel from one cairn to the next. Being very careful of course Mom ; ). I finally got to a point where I could start a slow jog and it was magnificent. There was scenery for days and just enough in the path where I had to pay attention so I wouldn’t trip, but could look up and enjoy it every so often.
I arrived at the junction of Old Army Pass and and it was time to decide if I would continue back the way I came or if I would do the loop for New Army Pass, even though that meant gaining back another 300 ft. elevation and a few more miles to the daily total. I decided to do the loop. When given a loop option, always take it! I also needed to see what all the discussion was about with the Old vs. New Army Pass mumbo jumbo.
Jogging back towards Sequoia National Park was magnificent and magical. The perfect level trail with the mountains just out of reach in the background. Ahhhh! It finally switched back and started that 300 foot climb. That is also when I started to contemplate why I chose to do this route? Hmm…
I slogged up a few more switchbacks after furnishing the belly with another bar and finally arrived at New Army Pass, wahooooo, no more uphill today!!! I quickly found which way was down and whenever I was able started jogging down the switchbacks, stopping to take several photos of the snow on the headwall and of course the lakes along the way. I was down to High Lake in no time, followed by a jaunt by Long Lake, which held true to its name. The other 2 remaining Cottonwood Lakes rounded out the itinerary of lakes for the day, which put my total to 5, 6, maybe 7 lakes? Who knows? Any day spent by or around an alpine lake is considered time well spent to me! And 7? Forget about it….
The trail then rambled through the forest and started its decline to where it would meet up with the Cottonwood Lakes Trail. It was a gentle downhill slope with a stream meandering by on the left for some time. At this point, even though the day had been great and I still had quite a bit of daylight left it was the ‘are we there yet?’ hour. I only had a handful of miles left on the agenda but of course, those last few are the hardest and most tiring. I tried to jog whenever I could but sometimes just wanted to walk. I was tired. I was beaten. I had started my adventure before dawn and I was ready to be done and in celebration mode. I jogged out of there, no matter how slow, but I did it. I finally arrived at the parking lot exactly 10 hours after starting my journey, starving, tired, wet with sweat, cold again, and totally stoked! I changed into my fleece-lined long underwear and was ready to get warm, drive down the mountain taking in the views, and reminisce already in my mind about the panoramas that I saw today, feeling proud that I challenged myself once again and stepped up (4,544 ft. in elevation to be exact) to meet that challenge.
I was finally released into the wild for the season from working and I had no plans, so of course I immediately gravitated back towards the Sierra for at least a week or two of some stellar hiking. I knew being the end of October that the weather would potentially not be the greatest, but also that if I dressed just right I could still check out some amazing things before the snow finally came and shut down most of these mountains for the winter (at least for me!).
I started my journey from Ventura and decided to stop for the night right after Red Rock Canyon State Park. I’ve always driven by there and was curious about it but have never stopped. Technically I didn’t stop this time either, since I stayed at an OHV area slightly past it so I still must check it out as some point. I also wanted to stop there because I figured it would be slightly warmer than it was going to be in Lone Pine or wherever I would be staying the next week. I wasn’t wrong. The wind did start whipping around in the middle of the night and I discovered that would be something that would remain at least for the next few days wherever I was. Boo. I’m slowly beginning to tolerate colder temperatures, but I just can’t tolerate the wind. It makes everything more difficult.
I packed up the next morning and headed first to the Lone Pine Visitor Center to ask a couple of questions about my plan for the next few days and also to hopefully acquire a few more ideas for hikes. The ranger was very pleasant and I ended up walking out with a handful of printouts on hikes (sorry trees!). Next stop was my planning headquarters: McDonald’s! All the free wifi you could desire combined with a pretty cheap ice cream cone and you can find me in here a lot planning adventures. I sat and sat in my booth for a time longer than I hoped and I finally had a plan. I was going to drive another 1.5 hours to a campground called Grandview that is on the way to the Bristlecone Pine Forests (home to some of the oldest trees on the planet, no, really!!) and White Mountain, one of California’s 15 14ers, what I planned on hiking the following day.
The reviews online had mentioned how great the stargazing was at Grandview because of its higher elevation (8500ft.) and distance from light pollution, combined with a giant open field and lack of trees. I did happen to see the stars briefly before I departed to my hypothermic wrap inside my car and they were lovely but it was just too terribly cold to be outside at all! With the amount/type of blankets that I have in my car I’ve never had a truly cold night myself but I did wake up a few times swallowing cold air and being surprised by it. I arose to a lot of frost on the inside of my windows and was curious so I turned on the car to get a read on the outside temp. Eight degrees. EIGHT!! I think that was a record for me. At least I slept warm. Now time to get hiking?!
I started to hustle and get my car and myself ready for the rest of the drive up to the White Mountain Trailhead, which I heard was long (16 miles of dirt road), questionable, has tons of sharp rocks, and 4WD is required. Hmm. I also began to worry last night if I truly had enough gas to get all the way to the trailhead and back to Big Pine. That would be one heck of an adventure I didn’t really want to run into today. Fingers crossed.
The drive was indeed long, but also beautiful and the 4WD part, ehhh. I could see a couple spots where a small car might have a hard time getting up a gravely hill but it really wasn’t that bad. My gas tank however, that would torment me until I got to the bottom. After an hour drive I finally arrived at 8:30 and started the long contemplation of what I was going to wear. The wind was still whipping, even though I thought it was supposed to be over by now, and I was even questioning if I wanted to do this hike. I made a deal with myself. If I go out there and I’m just being bombarded by wind the whole time, it’s a struggle, and it becomes type III fun for too long, I turn around. Simple as that.
I had looked at different sites ahead of time and my Alltrails app had mentioned that it was an 11.5 mile RT hike. There were a few comments mentioning that that was indeed a lie and it clocked in more around 15 miles. I was kinda hoping for an 11.5 mile day but realized that it might not be the case. Either way I was going to give it a shot. I finally figured out what I hoped to be the right layering system and had shoved some food down my face before finally heading off around 9:15. Still cold, still windy. But not quite as terrible as I thought. I did have to keep wiggling the toes to get the circulation all the way down there before I finally got into the stride of things.
It started at a pretty gradual ascent and at 2 miles appeared the University of California White Mountain Research Center. I’m kinda curious what they’re researching up here. It is such an interesting environment. There are no trees from the time I began (the trailhead is at 11,680ft. elevation) and the plants look like they belong in a desert, but yet you’re up at 12,000 ft. elevation. Do desert ecosystems really exist that high? I suppose that might be part of the investigating…
After the center I started to climb more sharply and then there’s a bit of a descent. Once I clambered on a bit more I could finally see it, White Mountain. Hmm, looked rather red to me. But it was obvious which one it was. It stood out like a jewel with the surroundings mountains and rock piles being the ring it’s encased in. There were so many fascinating colors that the rock turned into in such a small space. It really did look like you were on another planet. It also really did look far away.
I really do believe in the things that I teach throughout the year and one of the things that I teach all the time are the principles of Leave No Trace. On this hike I felt like principle number one: Plan Ahead and Prepare, was hitting me on the head with its importance. Even though I did end up dressing properly, I was still worried about my gas, I didn’t plan ahead with that and that was something I could’ve easily changed. I also just mentally wasn’t entirely there. I had heard that this was one of the ‘easier’ 14ers out there to do since it’s almost on a dirt road the whole time but I underestimated how much having a good mental attitude towards the day would make a difference. I started out of the car thinking about potentially backing out. Not the best way to get in the mental head game. I also felt like throughout the hike, even though the scenery was gorgeous I was just hoping for it to finish and for me to get back to the car and warm clothes and hopefully warmer weather that night as well. That’s not to stay I didn’t thoroughly enjoy it. I was blown away by the scenery almost the whole time. I’m just recognizing that sometimes we can have off days, and this was one of mine.
Once I finally got to the point where the rock started to change more drastically to red and a melange of colors around me I looked up on the trail and saw a bighorn sheep! I was so stoked! I was dragging a bit before that but seeing that amazing animal energized me. I am glad, however, that it was the one that decided to take the high route on the rocks so we wouldn’t end up having a confrontation on the trail. It moved a tad more gracefully (and quicker!) than me over the rocks.
I was finally closer to the top! But yet it seemed to take forever and around every switchback and corner, was another surprising switchback! Where did they hide all those turns from afar? I got to the giant snow field and knew that at this point I really was closer. Thank God. I was ready for a seat and a snack.
I finally arrived at the summit! Wahoooo! At this point I could stare across and down at a lot of peaks in the Eastern Sierra, turn a little and check out the Panamints in Death Valley and even see straight on into Nevada. Sick. I attempted to take a few pictures of the wooden signs that I’m sure didn’t turn out well, finally had my seat and snack, read through some entries in the logs before adding my own and then got ready to leave. Ain’t nobody got time to hang out on this windy summit!
Ironically the wind wasn’t all that terrible on the summit but returned a tad on the way down. On the way back there were a few devastating uphills, one that I definitely remembered and wasn’t looking forward to and then a couple more that I swear snuck up on me. Either way I tried to do my best and jog slowly on the sharp rock strewn trail when I could, shedding layers as the wind finally was dissipating and the sun exacerbating. The uphill was of course less on the way back and I eventually made it to the car in about 6 solid hours with 15 miles, over 3,000ft elevation gain, and endless levels of stoke wrapped up in my belt for the day. Overall I think it was a pretty breathtaking hike that I didn’t give all my attention to so I feel like I might need to return at some point in the future to give it its due respect. White Mountain, I’ll be seeing you again.
Btw, I made it all the way to Bishop before having to fill up my gas tank.
Blast off! Headed on a ferry to Catalina Island where I’m about to embark on the Trans Catalina Trail, a hefty trail that starts (or ends depending on how you do the trail), at Avalon and spans the whole island at 38.5 miles and 9,600 ft. elevation change, eventually landing at Parsons Landing, where I’ll camp right smack dab on the beach. I’m stoked. I’ve been to Catalina a couple times before but never actually hiked on the island and since that’s one of my favorite things to do it’s about g-dang time! I decided to just go for this trip since the weather was still pleasant and not tooo hot (mid-April), I had time off from work, and golly-gee roger, campsites, they were available! When the stars align, you must follow those stars and go backpacking!
I hesitated initially because of the price: there’s the ferry ($74.50RT), the parking while you’re gone (another 75 bones), and the established campsites that you must stay at and are in high season prices right now. Altogether, I’m looking at $300 and that doesn’t include any food! Not quite your average price for a backpacking trip, but I figured it was going to be worth it, as it always is. I was not wrong.
I was ready for my to-do lists to fade into the mist of the ferry spray and to relax and just enjoy every moment. I could finally see the whole island peek into view. It’s amazing to think that I would be walking across it in its entirety in only a handful of days. I love all the adventures that life has led me on thus far and I was about to embark on a brand spankin’ new one. Life is pretty sweet.
I left my friend’s house in Ventura early that morning and tackled some errands as I headed towards San Pedro where I would catch my ferry to Avalon. I arrived just in time for the lining up to get on the boat and was boarded in about 10-15 minutes. I watched the water spurting out from the side of the boat as we pushed away from mainland LA, buildings becoming tinier and tinier as the distance between us and the shore stretched and took my daydreams with it. Daydreams interrupted by the welcome commotion of a pod of dolphins that joined our boat ride. Hell to the yeah.
I read, I wrote, I checked Facebook and messaged people, not sure what my reception might be like the next few days, and I definitely relaxed. Sinking more and more into my chair with every nautical mile that we soared over I felt further away from the ‘adult’ me that existed just moments ago. We’re on island time now baby! Time to put things into perspective and get out there and just really enjoy the simple things in life; the petals of a flower, the song of a bird instead of the sounds of go-carts or the humming of the soda machine, the deliciousness of a warm, delectable meal at the end of a long, strenuous hiking day, the sweat that pours down your back, reminding you of how hard you’ve been working to get to where you are.
Arriving early the day before I was to begin my hike gave me a chance to relax and to even see a few things that I hadn’t explored before on the island. A stop by the Visitor Center to pick up my permit and to purchase the map of the Trans Catalina Trail was a must, which I did right away. I also got a chance to stop by the Nature Center on the way to the campground which had some really cool exhibits to get me acquainted with what I might see on the trail. At the end of the road by the Hermit Gulch Campground (where I was staying)was the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Gardens. I wandered up there, paid the $7 admission and ended up spending the next couple of hours being fascinated with the super cool plants and architecture of the Wrigley Memorial. Super worth it. Trust.
I stayed at the Hermit Gulch Campground my first night on the island. At 1.5 miles from the boat landing, it was a great option to walk to, set up camp, and then come back to town to explore a little before settling in for the night. Conveniently at about halfway there is a restaurant called the Sandtrap (across from a golf course obvi.) that had some pretty cheap deals on tacos. Got me 2 of those and a beer before finally heading back to my site for the night.
I highly recommend staying here or even in a hotel or Airbnb for a night and exploring the town a bit before starting out on your hike, especially if you haven’t been here before. There are plenty of good restaurant and bar options, just don’t overdo it or you’ll be regretting it for the rest of the hike. 😉
First official hiking day finally arrived! After arising sometime after six I really didn’t have the yearning to get out of my sleeping bag until 7. Seven seemed like a good time to tackle the day. Sure! So up at 7, packed up, shoved some delicious berry oatmeal in my face and on the trail by 8. Coffee to go. The trip reports did not lie, there was practically no shade on the trail and yes, indeed, you go up….and up…and up…and down….a lot! The elevation profile for this trip actually resembles something more like an off the charts EKG monitor than a trail. But after sitting at the Blackjack Campground I was thankful that I put in the 9.2 miles to get there by lunch, a late lunch albeit, but lunch.
Even though I was relaxing hard, I knew I had my work cut out for me the next few days. But like one of my favorite quotes says: “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.” – Art Williams
The birds at Blackjack Campground really go nuts. I listened to an undetermined amount, watching as woodpeckers surrounded my water spigot and frolicked with each other up the Eucalyptus trees.
It’s nice to be able to slow down and just sit and observe the birds. My life is more in slow motion when I’m backpacking. None of the major things in life matter. Anything can be dealt with later. All that matter is what’s happening now. On the trail. At camp. Those damn woodpeckers. They won’t shut up. They are what matter now….
Highlights of hiking today included watching a lizard running so hard & fast that it did a front flip over a stone step on the trail. Nailed the landing. I also saw my first bison today. I spotted this darker spot on the hillside that moved ever so slowly. I felt like I was far enough away but I didn’t know what the trail looked like around the bend so I stopped the music and made my way cautiously up and over the pass, turning around every now and then half expecting the bison to pop his head over the hill and say ‘Boo’! Great animal sightings for the first day on trail.
The following day was the start of realizing how hard the hiking really was. Yeah. Haha. I started out the day by being woken up by the lovely neighbors that I kept seeing on the trail….shortly after 5! I get it if you want an early start, but you should be respectful of quiet hours at night AND in the morning. These hiking hooligans were not. Heard their whole conversation. So I decided to eventually get up around 6:30, then I was on the road by 7:15, no breakfast, just coffee to go and a bar in my pocket. Once I got away from camp and hit the real meat of the trail I was all above the clouds and the memories of the early wake up faded into the fog on the horizon.
The hike to the airport was only about 2 miles (with a good uphill of course) and that was where I was planning to take a break and have a breakfast burrito. I saw my first adorable Catalina Fox right before I got off the trail at the airport. We totally had a stare down. I think I won.
I then went into the airport cafe where I ran into the early rising neighbors & they told me the kitchen wasn’t open yet. Weird, right after they left I ordered a super pricey (16.95), but quite delicious Buffalo Brisket Breakfast Burrito (Holy B’s!). I probably could’ve finished it, but decided to wrap about 1/3 of it to go. Good choice.
I saw my 2nd bison after the airport. It was just chilling, chowing on some breakfast, rolling around in the grass a little. I took a few photos of the lad and then we parted ways. Hope it doesn’t know what I just ate….
It was pretty ‘cloudy’ the rest of the hike to Little Harbor, which helped make it feel like someone was turning on the AC intermittently. I’ll take it! A welcome break from the heat of the day before. I finally made my way down to Little Harbor and it was so stinkin’ quaint! It was gorgeous, really. The only thing that appears to be there is the campground, which is super nice, and of course the turquoise bay.
I went straight for the beach, plopped my booty down & finished that there burrito. It tasted even better when eaten on a beach watching turquoise tainted waters roll slowly into shore, that’s for sure! After relaxing for a moment I went to explore an area that looked like it might have some sick tide-pools. The rocks entertained me for a bit but eventually I felt the pull to keep going.
The afternoon hiking started out pretty innocently, gradually rising above the harbor to magnificent views and then it kept going up…..and up….and just when I thought it might be a joke that the trail would go there because there’s no possible way…..up some more. It was actually comical. I had to keep repeating the engine revving sound from Mario Kart & the “here we gooo!” chant.
The island kept on being blanketed by the clouds & by the time I made it to the Instagram Spot (according to the map) it was about time I had me a dance party! I had earned it already! But there was still more climbing to be done! Never fear! Off I headed to make my my final climb and then descent into Two Harbors, where I would be spending the night. When I first caught sight of Two Harbors, the stoke level was high. How blue is that water, really??!! Gorgeousness!
After descending for what seemed like a century I was confused where to go once I reached town, ended up backtracking a bit (uphill of course), turning back around, taking the road to camp (another .5 miles), then realizing you need to check in for the campground in town (another .5 RT), oh lordy b were my feet hurting! At least I knew my site number so I set my stuff down before heading back to town. Fina-stinkingly! I got checked in for my campsite & also got my locker key for Parsons Landing. Sweet.
I arrived back at camp to the birds swarming around my pack. This campsite, being the only one not run by the Conservancy, does not have food storage systems. I mistakingly left my pack unattended and the ravens unzipped my brain to find some goods! Damn rookie mistake. Although not off to a stellar start, Two Harbors really was a nice spot to stay. The tent sites were all elevated up the hill like an amphitheater so everyone pretty much gets a view of the water. This is also a place where the ferry drops and picks up so there are a few amenities, shops, restaurants, etc.. Not as big as Avalon by a long shot, but still has a few spots in case you run out of something along the way or maybe plan to not pack food for a night and have dinner out just because you can. Either way, definitely a nice spot for me to relax for the night before the final push of the next day, ahhhh…..
The next day was the push from Two Harbors to Parsons Landing. It was a 15 mile whatever the ridiculous elevation gain it was kinda day. My feet definitely hurt. Actually, when I woke up everything hurt really, but in a good way.
I arose at about 6:15 & decided to get started since I knew this was the longest hiking day & also toughest looking elevation gain. I was on the pipeline hiking out of the campground by 7:20, around the same time as the day before. Hiking out of Two Harbors wasn’t bad until it got worse. Once I finally left the other harbor & headed uphill, that’s all it was until I reached about a 2 mile point, where I was in the middle of the clouds & I was stoked when there was any form of down, and then I finally reached the highest point above the clouds! Yeehaw! Time to descend and make my way to the final camp!!
The silhouettes of the mountains, the canyons, the islands, it was all to die for that day. This is where for me the trail really became worth it. I cruised for a bit relishing the vast views surrounding me until I got to the downhill intersection. I headed downhill & didn’t know I would be so thankful that I brought my trekking poles for the gazillionth time this trip. Bring trekking poles!! That shiz was STEEP! I almost fell a couple of times even with them. Once my feet were pounding in their hole-ridden socks & shoes I finally made it to the campground and was secretly wishing I had the desire to just stay ‘home’ for the rest of the day but I knew I must head to Starlight Beach and see what it was all about. When on the TCT…
I set up my tent, ditched my gear in it, had a little pre-lunch, and then I headed back up that mofo hill I just came down. Nine more miles to go, wahoo!!!!! I knew online they said it wasn’t an easy 4.5 to get there so I figured that meant more uphill. And of course, it did. I climbed up and over Parsons Landing for a stellar view from above. I had some apprehension about hiking though, I just kinda wanted it to be done. I wanted to be relaxed in the tent with not many worries & definitely none of them; ‘is there going to be another uphill’? I knew that heading to this beach there was going to be one more tremendous uphill before I could finally relax and feel free. And there was. But there was also something that I didn’t think about, but really wanted and needed; the chance to finally be totally alone on the trail & see less & less evidence of humans altogether. That is what made it so worth it and special for me. I did, however, run into 2 dudes that were returning from Starlight Beach, but I wasn’t sad to see them because they were beyond stoked to see another hiker and were also well equipped with flair. One had on paisley leggings and the other had a makeshift hat that looked like it came from space. I couldn’t quite figure it out but I appreciated it and they definitely raised my enthusiasm. It didn’t hurt that I had yet another fox stare-down right before I passed them.
I carried on until I went down more steep trail to finally reach the sign that said: Starlight Beach – Day Use Only, No Fires and then the land just dropped right off. Of course. I had to down-climb this sketchy crumbly piece of rock to get to the final beach. But then I was finally there…and by myself, ahhh……..I did think about skinny dipping for a brief moment, but after I took my shoes off & walked along the beach & let the cold, crisp water shock my toes I was like, eh-eh, can’t make me! So instead I soaked the toes and had a snack before heading back out. I still knew how long I had to go before I could really relax for the day.
When I left I zoned out to some tunes & the vastness of the ocean blue as I hiked back to Parsons Landing. The time was flying by. I just so happened to run into another fox on the dirt road back to my campsite. I think the count was at 5 or 6. They are so stinkin’ cute & adorbs and little I just wanted to put one in my pocket for cuddles later. And you can only find them here!
Once I finally arrived at camp and was done hiking the rest of the afternoon/evening was just divine. I made it back in time for the Reading, Writing & Rose hour. Although that hour was going to start whenever I made it back, no matter the time. Me saving all 4 of my cans of Rose for this last night on the trail was one of the best ‘life’ decisions I’ve ever made. Totes. The sun glistening on the water. The waves crashing on the rocks. I could just sit there & watch the scene for hours. I was so happy to be spending my last night on the trail in this breathtakingly beautiful spot. I wish it would last longer, not the trail per se, but this moment. Pause button, please.
But all moments pass, the intolerable & the divine & that one had spent its time. Next was dinner time. I chatted with the neighbors and since they were already doing a fire I said I would bring my firewood over so we could all chat around the fire the last night. And that we did. It was a nice end to the trip, reminiscing about all the ups and downs, and ups, and ups we had encountered on the trail.
I was stoked to be spending yet another night camping with the waves lulling me to sleep but a bit worried it’d be too dreamy and I wouldn’t wake in enough time to hike back and make the ferry. Phone = dead. Online I thought it said 6.5 relatively flat miles back to Two Harbors but when I looked at the map it said 8.5! Hmm, might have to leave earlier than I thought. But alas, I did have my trusty neighbors that woke me up every day but the first. I can rely on them!
My last day on the trail I was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratefulness. It was a recurring theme of this trip for me, actually. I reminisced as I hiked this amazing scenery some of the awesome places I’ve been in the outdoors, and the world in general and I’m just so grateful for all of those experiences that I’ve already had and the ones that I know are still in my future. I was also grateful that I was just in shape enough so this was a challenge, but not a torture to hike, that I had the time off of work, and was not only physically ready, but financially could do this trip right now. Cheers to living life and chasing adventure!
Last day, set the scene: Me under a thatch-roofed bungalow, nestled in a super comfy chair with an ottoman, palm trees to the left and right, just finished a Bloody Mary now working on a Boysenberry Wheat Ale awaiting my ferry back to the mainland. The ocean lapping away like a dog at his water bowl on a lazy summer day. I have mere hours before I step back in the ‘real’ world with its silly worries. Pause button.
Fast forward 1 hour: Upper deck and back seat of the ferry, the island disappearing in the corner view of my mind’s eye, American flag endlessly flapping in the wind, the trail of the boat leaving a momentary trace of where I’ve been, hot pink & blue dreaded hair flying in the wind while I feel the vibration of the motor, listening to great tunes and recounting the even better memories I have from this escapade. Another chapter in my life’s large adventure book has been written and I couldn’t be happier. Until we meet again Catalina……
If you want to embark on a similar journey here are some details/info. that might be useful.
Total expenses(camping prices fluctuate depending on the time of the year and can obviously be cheaper if shared!):
- Round trip Ferry Ticket: $74.50
- Parking at the Ferry: $72.00
- Camping at Hermit Gulch: $36.25
- Camping at Black Jack: $32.25
- Camping at Two Harbors: $38.55
- Camping at Parsons Landing: $52.25 (includes a bundle of wood and 2.5 gallons of water)
- Bison Burrito @ Airport in the Sky: $17.00
- Botanical Gardens: $7.00
- Day 1 – Arrive and set up camp @ Hermit Gulch – 1.5 miles
- Day 2 – Hermit Gulch to Blackjack Campground – 9.2 miles
- Day 3 – Blackjack to Two Harbors Campground – 13.5 miles
- Day 4 – Two Harbors to Parsons Landing – 6.6 miles
- Day 4 – Parsons Landing to Starlight Beach & Back – 9 miles
- Day 5 – Parsons Landing to Two Harbors – 8.5 miles
Total Mileage = 48.3 miles
- Phone: 310-510-8368
- Online: Online reservations
I finally was able to do it. A Clark Range Loop that took me over Red Peak Pass. I have looked at these peaks from afar for two summers now and pointed each one of them out to clients sighing for when I might be able to venture closer to their jagged peaks. Finally I had 4.5 days off in between trips in September and although I would’ve liked to have gone sooner I took the chance and ran with it. I seized the opportunity to finally plan out a route that would take me to one of the most distinct ranges in Yosemite and also go over one of the highest passes in the park. Pumped.
I was able to leave work earlier than I thought on Saturday which I was stoked for because I had to still pick up a permit, find camping hopefully close by and then finally finish packing before starting out on Sunday. I drove to the High Sierra Station at Prather to find a note on the doors that said they were closed on the weekends sooner than they had thought and had a supplemental sheet to find other ranger stations. I checked it out and although I thought I looked online earlier and this station was the best option thought maybe Bass Lake could be closer and possibly open. I wasted no time and just started driving there thinking if they closed at 4:30 I could still make it. I arrived to another closed office. They weren’t even pretending to be open on the weekends anymore. Fart-knocker. I then had some sense knocked into me and decided to call an office that might be open before driving again and see if they could advise me where to go. Well…. the office I called I believe is the only high Sierra office issuing permits on the weekend for the National Forest on the whole of the western Sierra. They were about 2 hours away. Three from my trailhead the following morning. Hmmm. There were thoughts entertained about just picking a closer route to the office or poaching the route without a permit but I was determined and I wanted to do it right. My birthday is coming up and usually I do a route for my birthday but a lot of years I’m working (as I am this year) so I celebrate at another time. I figured this would be the time and I wanted to do this route. G-dangit.
Heading to the office took a good minute but was rather scenic. I was able to pick up last minute supplies by Shaver Lake so I could finish packing that night and be ready to roll. Once the road went past the lake and the main touristy area it became a very obvious one way whipping, winding road that had frequent side pullouts to help when you saw someone coming the other way, which always sent my blood elevated no matter what. It was like playing Nature Chicken and the consequences were rolling down a 1,000 foot cliff. I was able to camp at Bosillo Campsite right by the ranger station that had a picnic table, fire pit, and bathrooms, all for free. Although there were quite a few more options driving up the road to pull out and have a spectacular view for the night if you didn’t need the amenities. I arrived right at sunset and finished packing and made some dinner before retiring. I would have a long day ahead of me.
The next morning I finished getting ready, made some oatmeal and then headed to the office to get my permit. I got it no problem although I was tried to convince to do a trip there. Next time. I had actually heard great things about where they were telling me to go. Add it to the list. Back to my car for the slightly over 3 hour car ride to the trailhead. At least the majority of it is scenic. Drive on!
I finally arrived around 12 after filling up the gas and driving through more winding, scenic roads. A tad later start than I anticipated put me on the trail by 12:30 with a hope of doing 15 miles that day. Might have to rethink that one. It was good to finally be on the trail either way, away from it all and everybody. I had just finished a summer season of guiding inside Yosemite where I was around people 24/7. I was ready for some peace and internal mind focusing. Serenity now! Only one other car in the parking lot so I didn’t think I would encounter too many folks. All I could hear when I started out was the crunch of the twigs on the trail and the swishing noise that my backpack made. Perfect. I was ready to embark on an amazing solo adventure with just me and my thoughts. The first part of the adventure took me through the blanketed forest for miles without much view around except the flowers. Thank god I stinkin’ love flowers.
I did eventually run into the one guy that was in the parking lot heading out and then another 5 guys that parked at Quartz Mountain trailhead (note that this trailhead would’ve saved a few miles rt) that were also heading out. After chatting with them and thinking about the fact that there was a chance of rain on Monday, the day that I was setting myself up for doing Red Peak Pass, I thought maybe I’d just switch the lollipop portion of it and plan to do Red Peak Pass on Tuesday when the weather should be better and I should have less weight on my shoulders. Sounded like a no brainer. Switcheroooooo!!
Since I was altering my plans already I wasn’t certain where I was going to camp that night and just knew that I wanted to push to get somewhere out of the green forest and somewhere with a view. 12.5 miles later and past Fernandez Pass I got just that and decided to stop for the night at Rutherford Lake. Arrival just a pinch after 7, ready for setup of camp and sundown shortly after. I got everything set up and started on my first of a couple dehydrated meals I brought because I’m fancy af. Orange chicken baby. After dinner I laid in my tent and could barely keep my eyes open until 9. Guess the wine I packed would have to wait…
I did arise at about 3 am to crazy winds almost blowing down my tent. Oh great, not again(Mt. Whitney deja vu from last year)! I was able to hold down the fort but the winds would continue all through the next day and next night. Blast.
I arose by 7, peeping my eyes open just ever so slightly before then. It didn’t seem that cold, just windy so I buckled up and started breaking down camp and making breakfast (oatmeal again). Out of camp by 8:30 and was hoping to pop into the forest and escape some of the wind. It somewhat worked.
As I descended more from the pass I went up yesterday I was just taken aback by the scenery. I loved the fact that I was on the border of the park, hiking in and out of Ansel Adams Wilderness and Yosemite and I didn’t even recognize most of what I was looking at. That was pretty sweet. Same park. Whole new scenery.
The second day was another challenging one, going up and over Post Peak Pass at 10,800 feet elevation and just being whipped by the wind all day. But the views, oh the views…. I mean, can you see the Minarets in the distance?? What, what??!! We on the East Side now baby!
I gaped and guffawed at the views all day as I covered a little over 14 miles and 3,000+ feet elevation gain. Just as I was beginning to ponder where I was going to camp for the night I looked over at the mountains and they told me. I needed to find a spot immediately and see just how fast I could set up camp. There was some weather coming right at me. Oh F.
A little hail and a dusting of snow later I had made myself another delicious fancy dehydrated meal, a hot water bottle for my sleeping bag, and was ready to just chill and lay in my tent for the rest of the night and ponder whether I was going to get snowed in and if I was going to be able to go over the pass tomorrow. It was now only around 6:00.
The next morning was exactly as I’d hoped. The storm had blown over. The sky was a perfect shade of blue. The birds were out singing and chirping away like as if I was in a Disney movie, and I was ready to climb up and over Red Peak Pass at 11,100 feet elevation. I had slept at tree line at about 9,900 feet so I wasn’t too far away from the top but things always take a tad longer when you’re negotiating in higher altitude over rocky terrain. I didn’t mind and was reveling in every moment of it. I knew that I would be spending my last night in the woods that night already and that some of the best scenery would be seen today and I better soak it all in and savor it. Ahhhhhhh…..
It took me almost 18 miles to get to my final camping spot, but I arrived a good amount before sunset, was able to sit in front of Chiquito Lake while waiting for my pesto pasta to cook, listening to ducks honk at each other in the distance. Daily moment of zen. It’s hard to believe the ground I covered that day and the things I saw. And it’s even harder to believe that I was getting down on myself for not summitting Red Peak. I figured since I was going to be up so high and quite early that it would be just a short scramble to the top. I knew there was no approaching it from the side I went up that was for sure. By the time I was at the pass I looked up and considered things. I figured I better at least give it a shot so I scrambled around the corner and got a look at what was ahead. Hmm. Looked sketchy af and then I looked at my gps, that wasn’t even the summit. Uh-uh. Not doing it. No regrets. Except I did. I feel like I get FOMO a lot in life. Especially when it comes to adventure these days. I think that’s the curse and the blessing of working with amazing individuals that go out and seek adventure. I am constantly inspired to also go do grand things, but often enough I feel like they’re not grand enough. And I should. I just went out on my 4.5 days that I had off and went over 4 high mountain passes, including the highest in Yosemite at 11,100 feet, covered over 48 miles with over 9000 elevation gain, handled hail, wind, and snow, and saw some of the most spectacular scenery that Yosemite and the Ansel Adams Wilderness has to offer. Yeah, I’m still a badass.
I also did all of that with some hurtin’ feet!! Despite having the newest marshmallow kicks from Altra my feet were in pain before the end of every day. I finally was feeling what some of my clients felt like being challenged throughout the summer. I got blisters. I got battered. I got bruised. I challenged myself in many ways but at the end of the day I’m still blissful. Blissful that I got an opportunity to get out here and see this astounding scenery. Blissful that I can just get out and roam to the mountains in between jobs. Blissful that I’m physically able to do just that. Blissful that I finally found the outdoors and learned how to chase adventure. Blissful that I can sit in front of a lake while making my dinner before heading back to civilization and it’s a Tuesday.
I saw a total of 12 people in 4 days, which considering I was in and out of Yosemite is NOT a lot of folks. It was like “oh, holy crap, there are other humans out here with me” kind of moments when I saw them. Which was great. I had time to go through all the to-do lists in my head, for now and in the future and to really just be in the moment and enjoy the way the light hit the flowers in a special sort of way or shone through the tree branches just right. I always say that you should never go too fast as to not be able to enjoy the small things along the way, whether that be a waterfall spot for lunch or the last bloom of a spectacular flower in a high alpine meadow. I felt like I got to enjoy all of that and beyond. Red Peak Pass, until we meet again….